Exclusive: Actress Cleopatra Coleman on How Shaving Her Head Changed Her Career

Updated 06/19/18
Cleopatra Coleman
Silke Labson

“The future is female and it doesn’t involve styling products.” This phrase underscores a meme that began circulating the internet in the spring of 2018. The images feature screengrabs of three fictional characters from Black Panther, Stranger Things, and Mad Max, as well as teen activist Emma González—all of whom have shaved heads. Though the meme stirred some controversy (after all, the length of your hair doesn’t have much to do with your strength), the image of powerful women sporting nontraditional beauty looks has been inspiring for thousands of women.

The latest badass Hollywood figure to join the ring of strong, hairless females is actress Cleopatra Coleman. You may know the Australian performer for her role as Erica on the just-ended Fox series The Last Man on Earth. She might be hard to recognize now, however—Coleman had a full head of hair while filming the show but decided to shave it all off after seeing Black Panther a total of three times in theaters and resolving that styling products were no longer for her either.

Coleman, who is half Jamaican and half Australian, grew up in Wentworth Falls, Australia. There, she started her performing career (as both an actor and a dancer), before moving stateside to catch her big break. Her hometown was picturesque but also fairly whitewashed—as one of the only mixed-race folks in the community, Coleman “definitely felt like the odd one out a lot of the time," she says.

Now age 30, Coleman has spent the past few years learning how to move past not only the beauty standards of her birthplace but of Hollywood too. “I’ve struggled with how much I want to lend myself to the industry and how much I want to lend myself to my own life,” she says. “Being an actress, I’ve sometimes felt like my body wasn’t my own.” Shaving her head felt like a symbol of self-reclamation for Coleman. A bold aesthetic move to match a bold professional one, the change coincides with the release of the first project Coleman ever wrote, executive-produced, and starred in: a “feminist sci-fi” feature film called Hover, which will be available in select theaters June 29 and several online streaming platforms July 4.

Naming Solange and model Adwoa Aboah as her two ultimate beauty icons, Coleman says that the shaved head has only helped her career—not injured it. She’s optimistic that women of all backgrounds and professions are becoming increasingly freer to experiment with unorthodox beauty looks. “It’s a really cool, exciting time,” she says. “I feel like we have such inclusivity in Hollywood now. Women should just do what the fuck we want.”

We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Coleman about the relationship between hair and power, her next daring beauty move, and more. Keep scrolling to read our full conversation. 

Cleopatra Coleman Shaved Head
Silke Labson

What was your initial motivation for shaving your head? Has it changed how you see yourself?

It was something that had been suggested to me in passing. So many times, people would say I’d look cool with a shaved head. But I always thought I couldn’t do it because I’m an actress or because it might look weird. I was always afraid to do it. It was definitely a personal thing. An emotional thing. I didn’t even know how much it was going to mean to me, but as soon as I got the idea in my head, I knew it was something that I absolutely had to do, no matter how scared I might get. 

I guess I initially shaved it for a role, but the role isn’t happening for a while, so I really can’t say it was that fully. That was more the seed that was planted in my head. Then I saw Black Panther three times. I saw all those badass warrior women on screen. There are so many things about that movie that are amazing and meaningful to me, but what really stood out was how cool and strong the women looked. I just thought that was something that I really wanted to represent. I wanted to sharpen my sense of self.

You know, I’ve worn my hair in so many different ways. I’ve cut it into bobs; I’ve worn long weaves down my back; I’ve let it grow natural. And being an actress since I was 15, people will say things to you like, “When you go and meet with this director, make sure you wear your hair down because he’ll want to see it.” And when things like that are said to you repeatedly over a 15-year career, they might just be little comments, but they get to you. I didn’t like how much I was hanging onto these ideas of traditional beauty and how much I was hiding behind my hair.

So after a while, it started to feel like a burden. Like it was getting in the way of me looking in the mirror and seeing me, not anything else, and appreciating that. So it’s been revolutionary for me as far as my self-worth and not feeling like I need any add-ons. Now, when I look at a picture of myself with hair from before, it looks like I’m wearing a wig. Like it doesn’t belong.

Almost like you’re in costume.

Yeah, it’s so weird. When those who love me and know me really well see me with my hair like this, they’re like, this is the most you you’ve ever looked. 

Such a good feeling.

It’s so cool. One of the coolest things I think I’ve ever done.

Cleopatra Coleman Beauty Routine
Silke Labson

Have people who don’t know you as well treated you differently? Has the entertainment industry treated you differently?

Yeah! When I first shaved my hair, it was down to zero. Like completely bald. It was actually incredible. I documented the whole thing. My friend who’s a hairdresser, Golden Sunshine (yes, that’s her real name), shaved it for me. Literally about halfway through my third viewing of Black Panther, I turned to her and said, you’re shaving my head after this. So anyway, now I get people literally on the street saying, “Love the new look!” or “This really suits you!” As if somehow they knew it was new to me.

This is something my boyfriend and I have noticed. It’s like, how do they know this is my brand-new hairstyle? How do they know I don’t wear my hair like this all the time? Maybe I’ve been wearing my hair like this for years. I don’t know if there’s something about the way I’m carrying myself—like there’s a freshness to me.

Like you’re newly in love or something. There’s a glow to you.

Yeah! So that’s been really interesting. I guess it’s just not your average haircut, especially when it was fully shaved to a zero. Now it’s at about a three, so more a pixie vibe. But it’s still rare, and I love it.

Cleopatra Coleman Interview
Silke Labson

I’m wondering if you think it’s a coincidence that you’ve come into this new androgynous hairstyle as you’re starting to direct and produce your own projects.

I absolutely relate to that. I mean the process of the movie that I wrote started many years ago, when I had a ton of hair. But the movie is coming out soon. People always say you never finish a movie; you abandon it. It’s this culmination of so many years of work, blood, sweat, and tears. Especially this film—it was the first feature I’d ever written. And it was my first time being the lead in a film. I wrote it because I wanted to take things into my own hands. So when it comes out, it’s going to feel like this big goodbye.

I don’t know how I’m gonna feel moving onto something else. So it does make sense that I would shave my hair at the same time.

A lot of things are changing around this time. The show I was on got cancelled after four years, which was sort of positive and sad. There’s a lot of shedding taking place. Also in my personal life. I don’t know if that’s to do with my hair or if it’s just where I’m at, but I definitely feel more powerful. I definitely feel like more of myself and more proud of who I am. I feel like I have more perspective on life. I feel more free. I’ve been traveling. It’s nice to be able to jump in a river and Bali and not worry about what my hair is gonna do.

I’ve always been so conscious about that. I also think because I grew up in Australia in a very white community, people would point out my hair a lot and make fun of it, or even point it out in a positive sense. But either way, I definitely felt like the odd one out a lot of the time. So it’s always been this issue of thinking about my hair. What am I gonna do with my hair? Where’s my hair right now? Being an actor and on red carpets, you’re always worrying about your flyaways, hoping everything’s in place.

It could be a great photo, but if there’s a hair out of place, I’m going to feel bad about that and it’s going to ruin my whole night. I don’t want to be held to that. I just want to be free.

So I definitely feel more powerful. And I’m writing a movie about a girl with a shaved head. It’s like a feminist sci-fi movie. So it’s all totally appropriate.

Cleopatra Coleman Photo Shoot
Silke Labson

On a slightly lighter note, do you tend to do your makeup differently with a shaved head?

Yeah, I do! I was never really one for a smoky eye before. I always liked it, but I just felt like it was too much with the hair, whereas now I’m really embracing doing crazy things like putting red all around my eyes or doing a big smoky eye. It’s really cool to be able to make my eyes pop more.

Any products you’re particularly into?

Pat McGrath’s . She sent it to me, and it’s the most incredible highlighter I’ve ever used. It’s a double-ended big lipstick basically. One side is like a clear Vaseline almost and the other is highlighter, so you could just do a dewy look or add the glitter as well. I’ve been playing around with that a lot.

Do you have any more bold or weird beauty looks that you want to try in the future?

Oh yeah. I want to dye my hair. . I want to do a bright orange thing like Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element. There are so many cool things I can do with it now. I never had the balls to dye it before when I had hair because I knew it would probably break off, but now I can just dye it whatever color I want and shave it off, you know? Start again. It’s really freeing.

Being an actress, I’ve sometimes felt like my body wasn’t my own, or sometimes I’ve struggled with how much I want to lend myself to the industry and how much I want to lend myself to my own life. Sometimes I’ve done things like gone and gotten a  just to claim that this is my skin, and I lend it to the industry to do what I love and then I have it back so I can be myself. So the shaved head is like another extension of that in the best way possible, and it’s been nothing but great for my career.

I just want to continue to celebrate . I’ve always felt nontraditional growing up in Australia anyway. Dolly Parton has this amazing quote: “Find out who you are and then do it on purpose.” And that’s kind of how I feel like things are going for me right now.

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